Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall election in September, and has gotten donations from a panoply of the country’s richest people.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election in two months, has drawn far more support from billionaire donors than any of his opponents — by a compelling margin.
Altogether, 23 billionaires have donated to a California gubernatorial candidate, according to a search of the California Secretary of State’s Cal-Access Campaign Finance database. Of those, 19 have backed Newsom, donating a combined $5.7 million while three have thrown their financial weight behind Republican challenger Caitlyn Jenner. Just one has donated to former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, also a Republican.
California political analysts aren’t surprised by how the support is stacking up.
“Many of California’s billionaires come from the technology sector,” says Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “They see Democrats as more sympathetic to science and international trade. They are leery of Republican positions on social issues and immigration.”
Newsom’s largest backer so far is Netflix cofounder and CEO Reed Hastings, whose $3.1 million contribution is 10 times greater than the next largest donation. Ten billionaires in tech —including DoorDash cofounders Andy Fang and Stanley Tang and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt — have also donated to Newsom. New York hedge fund tycoons George Soros and Jim Simons are the only billionaire Newsom donors who live outside of California. Some of the donations went to Newsom’s Stop The Recall campaign, while others have gone to his 2022 election campaign. Newsom took office as governor in January 2019 and, if he is not recalled in September, he could run for a second term in November 2022.
Republicans have been trying to recall Newsom since he first took office, with five prior attempts failing to reach the ballot in 2019 and 2020. Recall proponents were granted an extra 120 days (because of the pandemic) to collect the 1,495,709 signatures needed to put the recall on the ballot, a feat they accomplished in April 2021. The reasons they claim Newsom should be recalled include his support of laws favoring illegal immigrants, high taxes and the unilateral suspension of the death penalty.
So far, three billionaires have backed Newsom opponent Caitlyn Jenner— the former Olympian and reality TV star — including New Yorker John Catsimatidis, who built a fortune in real estate and owns an oil refinery. Says Catsimatidis in an email: “I am totally in favor of recalling CA Governor Newsom. He went far beyond his call of duty when he closed the houses of worship and closed the beaches.” Adding: “He was punishing the people of CA for their way of life, taking away our freedoms and liberties.” (Never mind that the recall petition does not mention closing beaches or churches.)
Newsom closed California’s beaches and churches during the pandemic as part of a broader stay-at-home order in March 2020, after the recall campaign was launched. Most beaches reopened by Oct. 2020, and in Feb. 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that California churches be reopened.
“Caitlyn Jenner is a heroic American,” added Catsimatidis, a Greek immigrant and former grocery clerk. “I have had lunch with her…met several times with her…had her as a guest on my WABC Radio program. She has good, old-fashioned American common sense.”
Jenner’s other billionaire donors are Oracle chief technology officer and founder Larry Ellison and Bob Parsons, the GoDaddy founder. Parsons told Forbes in May that his support is motivated by his longtime friendship with Jenner and not politics.
The only other candidate with billionaire backing is former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has received contributions from Darwin Deason, who sold Affiliated Computer Services to Xerox in 2010. Deason did not reply to a request for comment.
The odds are quite long that any candidate will beat Newsom.“Newsom is an incumbent who is likely to win,” says Pitney.
Fifty-seven percent of likely voters indicated they’ll “vote no” on the recall, according to the Public Policy Institute of California’s most recent poll in May. And the California Republican Party is unlikely to formally back one of Newsom’s 40-plus challengers, according to Sonoma State political science professor David McCuan, meaning the remaining vote will likely be split.
“There’s no Arnold,” says McCuan, referring to movie star and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was voted into office as a Republican to replace Democratic governor Gray Davis in the state’s last gubernatorial recall, in 2003.
No prominent Democratic challenger has entered the race against Newsom. “If the state’s on fire, if you can’t turn on your air conditioner, if there’s a celebrity in the race, if there’s some type of scandal that erupts around him, then maybe that changes things,” says McCuan. “But that again is a wing and a prayer.”
Below, the list of billionaire donors to Newsom, Jenner and Faulconer as of July 15, 2021. Some donations were also made by the spouses of several billionaires.